Walk-around Birding – How To and Settings…

There are quite a few of us who indulge in walk-around birding. In short, we walk around parks and general birding hotspots and try to get whatever shots we can. For a vast majority, this happens on weekends.

I am just going to discuss one technique that I have learned over the years during my walk-around birding. This is about the settings I use on my camera and how.

Most of us already know that we can find birds just sitting around or ones that just fly past. We mostly miss out on the flypast ones. The shutter speed is the culprit in all these cases that I have seen so far (besides focus, but, that remains otherwise as well).

This is a technique that I have shared with my colleagues and friends which helps in dealing with such scenarios for the most part.

Generally, we would use slower shutter speeds for sitting birds than BIFs which would require a much higher shutter speed.

I will not get into which camera mode you choose to shoot in or if you use full manual or auto-ISO. The kind of metering mode you use will affect any “auto” that you use. That part is all yours.

The only mode in which you cannot use this technique is the Aperture Priority since this is based on shutter speed.

Personally, I use full manual (excepting for Auto-Focus and Auto-White Balance) and you can and use manual mode with Auto-ISO for similar results. I spend a lot of time round-tripping my shots from any new gear to figure out the response to light and distance and prefer to set the ISO manually instead of depending on the metering on the camera.

Now, when you are at the spot you want to start birding, just take a test shot to make sure that you have the camera working as expected.

Then, set the shutter speed to your favourite BIF speed. I generally use 1/1250, although, I have started using 1/1600 with my Nikon D850 and I will explain why in another video.

Now, take a test shot again and just make sure it is not too dark on the histogram of the LCD on the camera. I would not advise looking at the image to figure that out.

This is actually it!

Always walk-around with the camera set for BIFs. You will have enough time to reduce the shutter speed for still targets, but, if any bird flies past, you might not have the time to bump up the shutter speed at that moment.

Whenever you take a sitting bird shot, let us say with a shutter speed of around 1/640, make sure you switch right back to 1/1250 after that.

This process has two advantages…

1. You will generally be able to get birds in flight that pass by since your camera is already set for that.
2. For smaller/tiny birds, you would need a higher shutter speed even for sitting shots and even if you take those shots at 1/1250 or just one rotation of the shutter speed dial lower, you will still get them. Assuming you are working with the camera default settings of 1/3rd stops, a single rotation of the dial will set the shutter speed to 1/1000 which is good enough for most tiny birds.

To summarise, always keep your camera set to shoot BIFs. Change the shutter speed only when needed for sitting targets and switch back to the BIF settings right after that shot.

Last, but not least, is that you should keep your shutter speed to what works best for you for BIFs. The lowest reasonable speed from my experience is 1/1250. Feel free to go higher than that when needed. For example, small birds would be better at 1/1600, the tiny ones would require 1/2000 or even more.

Try out this technique and do drop in your experience with the same in the comments.

My Flickr stream has more images with the complete EXIF at Flickr in case anyone wants to look at the settings and the details related to the same.

Cleaning up Shadows in Wildlife Macros

Where there is light, there will be shadows!

In this short video, we will look at a different technique for cleaning up shadows in macro images using Lightroom range masks.

This technique can be adapted for other images as well. The final image can be seen on Flickr.

Let us look at an example to see how this is done…

Speed up Adobe Lightroom Classic

This is a little known technique that I wanted to share, but, kept forgetting 🙂

Basically, it’s not just Lightroom, this technique works for all disk/file intensive applications on the Mac and since Windows also indexes file, this would work on Windows as well.

Let’s take a brief look at how to speed up such applications on the Mac…

Adobe Lightroom Classic 10 Bug – Masking broken?

I generally use Lightroom for all my raw processing and avoid Photoshop unless I am replacing a sky or a similar composite.

One of the tools I use a lot in Lightroom is the Adjustment Brush and the AutoMask feature in that for edges.

Although I have updated to version 10 and therefore cannot show a side-by-side comparison, but, the change from the earlier version is quite visible even in normal masking.

Let’s take a brief look at this issue…

Photoshop – Remove specular highlights/shine/shadows for wildlife

This is perhaps more relevant for macro photography and flash, but, can also be used in other cases.

To demonstrate this technique, I will use a close-up image of a snail for the highlights and shine removal and a bird image for shadow removal.

Let’s see how we can go about doing this in Photoshop…

#Photoshop #Wildlife #Highlights #Shadows #Post

Lightroom 9.4 – Local Hue Adjustment for Macro Photographers

This feature was introduced in version 9.3 and I have found it very useful for wildlife macros. Of course, we do have similar conditions with birds at times, but, this is more useful for macros.

We often see a major green tint when we photograph insects in the wild on leaves and branches. Adjusting the overall image tint in the white balance does not work in these conditions.

Earlier, one would have to go to Photoshop to fix these issues, but, now it can be done in Lightroom itself.

Let us look at an example to see how this is done…

Lightroom 9.4 Import Bug – EXIF Date-Time Issue!

I ran into this major bug while re-organising my mobile shots and I consider it serious enough to share. In short, if you are using date/time functions in the Lightroom import, you have to be careful and double-check to make sure this bug does not impact your catalog.

Let us see what this bug is and how it can create chaos in our catalog.

Focus Stacking Using Lightroom & Photoshop

One of the ways of overcoming the current technology limitations in photography is called Focus Stacking.

This technique allows us to overcome the area of focus (DoF) in images. We can take multiple shots with different focus points and later combine these to get the entire image in sharp focus.

Let us see how this can be done using Lightroom and Photoshop.

Wildlife Photography – Nikon D500/D5/D6 or D850?

While most people are talking about the latest and greatest new Nikon D6, in this video, we will try to figure out which of the Nikon bodies is more suited for wildlife and why.

When I talk of wildlife, I include birding, macros (insects), as also mammals (large and small).

In general, the gear you use would depend largely on your usage and budget. In my case, I share images on the web and also print some. Personally, I like to have details in the subjects that one would not see via the naked eye which presents the beauty of nature from a different perspective.

Before we move on, all my image reference numbers are based on my Nikon 200-500mm at the full 500mm regardless of which body I use it on as also the fact that I like to fill the frame where practically possible.

Now, I also put some images on stock sites occasionally and most such sites, if not all, require at least 3000 px on the long edge.

Now that we have all this talk done, let us look at what the two most discussed features of any new camera:

1. The AF or the Auto-Focus system
2. The low light performance or ISO response range

Yes, there is the frame rate or FPS as well, but, that part I have already discussed in an earlier video.

Let us take these one-by-one and see how they impact wildlife photography.

The ISO or low light performance first. This definitely impacts the image quality in low light and there is no doubt on that part.

Unfortunately, this improved ISO performance comes at a cost. The cost is generally the resolution of the sensor. This is also reflected in the latest Sony A7 III which is a 12 MP sensor as also in the top end Canon bodies. The most often used term in this regard is the larger “pixel” size. There are details on the sensors available on the internet for those who might want to know more about this.

Once again, your gear depends on your purpose/usage and budget.

Now, let us look at the AF part. The AF is not relevant for macros or super macros (1:1 or higher). That leaves us with action shots of birds and mammals.

Most mammals are large enough so one could easily use just a single focus point. The same applies to large birds. I would say the size of crows and larger.

Most of the issues we look at the AF system is when we are dealing with smaller mammals (squirrels and the likes) and small to tiny birds.

Now, there are actually two issues here…First, these subjects are small and unless you can get close to them, you will not really get any detail. Second, when you get close enough to these small ones, every AF, as also you, would be hard-pressed to track/pan them.

Getting close to a subject can be achieved in two ways.

1. Getting physically closer, or
2. Using a longer lens

Let me talk of a couple of specific examples. If you have ever tried to shoot a running squirrel around a 10-meter distance, you already know what happens when you try to pan the camera with it. The same applies to a tiny sunbird or tailorbird. Although you might get a squirrel running across a wall or the ground, the birds would be even faster and more erratic.

If you cannot move the camera fast enough to track, the AF cannot do much since the subject is not within the AF range. The 10-meter distance that I mentioned is just about good enough to get some detail on these subjects even though you will have only a quarter of less of your frame with the subject.

Before we look at some images to figure out the above-mentioned points, let us look at some of the Nikon bodies and their image resolutions…

D5200, D5300, D7200 – 6000 x 4000 (Approx. 24 MP)
D7500, D500, D5, D6 – 5568 x 3712 (Approx. 20 MP)
D850 – 8256 x 5504 (Approx. 45 MP)

Excepting for the D500, D5 and of course, D6, I have owned all the other bodies and used them for years. My current gear is a couple of D850s, a D7500 with a Nikkor 200-500mm as my long lens and a Tamron 90mm as my macro lens besides some others.

Let us now look at some of my shots to see what becomes more relevant for wildlife and why.

I will use ON1 Photo Raw 2020 for this purpose for two reasons.

1. It shows the subject distance as seen by the camera
2. I have not processed the images in any way in this application

To summarise what we just saw…

The resolution is perhaps the most important part for wildlife photographers. The AF, regardless of how good it is, cannot do much unless you can pan the camera and keep the subject in the frame. For long shots, the AF would not really make a difference in practice as also for larger subjects.

The sensor resolution detail would be limited by the lenses you use, so, keeping a reasonable balance between the resolution, lens and your budget might be a prudent choice. Getting the highest-resolution sensor around might not be the best choice.

In my case, I try to figure out the maximum ISO at which the image quality is acceptable to me at given distances for every camera body. I do not shoot if I have to go beyond that excepting in some cases or to test.

Ultimately, it is your choice as to what is more important to you as a wildlife photographer. Of course, there is also a possibility that all this would change in the future as technology moves ahead…

Nikon D850 ISO 25600 – Usable with Topaz DeNoise?

I have been experimenting with my D850 for a few months now and I will share some of my findings regarding the ISO response for wildlife.

As one would expect, the ISO response is a lot better than compared to my earlier D7500. In fact, it turns out to be twice as good for my kind of shots.

Normally, I try to shoot as close as practically possible and try to get as much detail on the subjects given the light and exposure I can achieve.

Then, I tried to push the ISO to the limits which, one normally would not do. Today, I tried it at the highest native of 25600 but, in low light. Around 7 pm on a cloudy day.

The idea was to see what I could get from the D850 and use Topaz DeNoise to try and make the images usable.

Let’s see how this experiment went…

#photography #nikon #Topaz #noise #iso